Going to the Beach: Part 1

Lots of smiles that day!
Well, I finally got to the beach and it was super fun and a great experience for Mercury and I!

If you didn't know, I have had Mercury since he was a yearling and there was time when he would not set foot in water. Not even a puddle. Working with water can be an important element to any discipline, even the casual trail rider may have to cross a puddle or small creek. It's also important in that it's a good trust exercise and horses sometimes need to be hosed or stand in water for medical reasons.

When I approach anything more challenging with any horse I have to keep a close watch on it being a Trust making or Trust taking exercise. I have seen many approaches that look a lot like bullying under the guise of "Training". This video was inspired by many things but one was a video I saw a while ago on getting a horse to go in the water at the beach. It looked neither fun nor a good experience for either horse or rider. It got me thinking. Here is Part 1 of the videos of our beach experience. Enjoy!
Click here to go to Beach video link



Playing today in the rain! Notice the Natural Outline Progression.

I am still in enjoying Florida and though I haven't gotten to the Beach yet I have been playing with Mercury where he is boarding and enjoying our time time together. I thought it would be good to share how to be Creative when you may have what seems like limiting circumstances. I know many of you may have horses at a boarding facility and it does require creativity when playing with your horse if you are only able to work in tack or in a round pen.

Mercury, being a spirited horse and living a fairly confined routine posed the first set of challenges. Very deep sand footing, a tiny round pen and hot weather provided other challenges I did not anticipate.

So how do we adapt in these situations? As I wrote in the last post, I had to allow both Mercury and I to adapt to a very different routine then we are used to at home. It took me the first week to figure out how much this would affect Mercury. What would his energy levels be like? How would his body feel after standing around in a stall much more than usual? Only after I figured that out could I figure out what I should do each day with him. My concerns were making sure he moved enough to stretch and get his circulation going while not overheating him. This proved to be very difficult. He wanted to play and run and stretch. At home I would normally let him Liberty play more but this was proving to overheat him to levels I had not seen before. I had trace clipped his coat to help but it was not enough. He was fine with slow paced movement temperature-wise but it did not satisfy his desire to play and run. Each day I would see how much "play" he could handle and it was proving to be very little before he overheated. Each day I adapted my routine a bit different while still working with his energy needs but keeping his well-being at the forefront. There has been a lot of hosing before and after our sessions!

My Dressage coaching with Bettina Drummond helped me immensely with this scenario. She has helped me channel Mercury's spirited energy into positive, fun ground work, collection, In Hand, and Mounted Dressage work. Instead of trying to block this energy as many people try to do with horses the likes of Mercury or otherwise, you channel and direct the energy positively. Mercury does his best Piaffe and Passage work when he is in this state and this work satisfies his fire because it is expressive work. I used my Training Rein and Natural Outline exercises and my In Hand exercises to warm him up and supple him in a low impact way. The deep sand footing is also very fatiguing and difficult for Merc to work in. It took some getting used too but probably has some strengthening benefits as long as I am careful. For this reason I did not use the tiny round pen. It has the deepest sand and is very small. I felt it was not good for his joints and tendons to be circling and playing in it.

Another challenge we are dealing with is a lot of distracting activity for Mercury. I have described him many times as the most ADD horse on the planet and he is living up to that here. This place is full of interesting sites, sounds and horses! I don't blame him at all but have used the challenge to work on focus and attention. He is doing well because I know it is very difficult for him.

The exercises that I have relied on the most down here so far are Eye Contact and Leading from Behind when I can do Liberty Training. Otherwise I work a lot on Liberty Principles on Line which (if you haven't been to a clinic or seen my videos on this) are taking the Liberty exercises to on line. I highly recommend these to people who board because you can do them while your horse is on lead and they yield a nice Connecting way of working on lead. They also don't disturb others who may be working in the area with you. They can be done with food, on grass, in a ring or round pen/paddock.

In Hand work and Line work are very nice ways to play with warming up horses who may need just a bit of suppling and some strengthening, power and Natural Outline work if you can't work at Liberty. As long as you stay true to the Connection it's all good. Remember Connection starts with how we feel and think when we are around our horses. It is as simple as that.

I have one last experience to share this week about how easy it is to Connect with a horse. Mercury stables next to a very pretty Spotted Draft mare who he is quite taken with and rightfully so! I have been visiting with her when I go to Mercury. I have simply spoken to her and offered to share some of Mercury's carrots with her (I figured he wouldn't mind since he likes her) each time I am there. We have formed a connection over that simple ritual. Another young horse there "spoke" to me as I would walk through the barn. I could see he was having a difficult time in his training. I stop by his stall and Say Hello to him when I am there just to let him know he has a friend in the barn. I can tell he looks forward to that now and so do I.

Below are links to the Videos I mentioned enjoy!
Liberty Principles On Line
Natural Outline Part one


Horse Journal: Florida

Mercury inspecting strange plants that grow here while we Share Territory
I hope everyone had great holidays and a Happy New Year. Hopefully you have found the previous blog exercise enlightening and inspiration for the new year.

I decided to treat myself, significant other plus Mercury and 3 dogs to a much needed, well deserved holiday in Florida. I missed Mercury a lot after traveling so much. So I decided I wanted him with me on vacation. Fortunately, have trailer, truck and an agreeable stable to board him at temporarily, and the whole furry family can come along. Florida is quite horse friendly due to the heavy competition influx during the winter so it lends itself well to short term boarding.

What I wanted to share was my experience with Mercury and using the Waterhole Rituals to help us stay Connected in a foreign environment and routine to what we are both used to. I spoke to the owner of the stable prior and explained a bit about Mercury and his horsenality. They understood he would be adjusting to a lot of things over the first few days and how to make it less stressful and safe for him. Mercury would have to adjust to much less turn out time, hotter temperatures, a new routine, and lots of strange horses and humans handling him. I knew he would be full of energy and very curious about his surroundings and all the other horses.

The first day Mercury was quite fresh and un-focused which was to be expected. I Shared Territory with him in his stall and ate lunch with him. I let him know I was there as much as possible. I was able to do some Liberty work with him before our first ride in the strange place. It was definitely necessary because he was distracted and needed some suppleness work to loosen him from standing in the stall and trailer so much. I am grateful to have the WHR as a tool because it really helps me communicate with Mercury and help him settle in unsettling situations.

I first let him move around freely and then started with Leading from behind, Draw and Primarily Eye Contact to help focus him on my requests. I always see a particular ritual as being important to each individual horse, and Eye Contact is one I practice with Mercury a lot. He wants to look everywhere at everything not in a spooky way but curious and interested. Once he focused on my requests I would reward him by taking him to eat some grass or over to a particular horse to visit and Say Hello as long as he was polite about it.

The second day, I was able to put Mercury in a large grass paddock and play some more. He was still very energetic and distracted and interested so it was nice to be able to work with the WHR again to help him settle and relax and follow my requests. I did some work with food, Leading from Behind and Companion movement. At the end, we were able to do some more advanced Leading from Behind movements and then take it to Single Line. I was happy with where we finished up doing some Liberty Collection to Single line Collection. I look at this experience and each challenge that comes up as an opportunity to build a better partnership with Mercury. You cannot deepen Connection without going outside your comfort zone. I look forward to these experiences because they often bring up "difficult" conversations but it is all in how you look at it. It is the horses' way of communicating. It may look difficult, but it is just another conversation between me and my horse. Some are easy and some are not so easy. The not so easy ones are the best ones if you detach from the outcome and desired results. It is like a difficult conversation with a person. If you let it, it can be a path to deeper Connection and understanding.

Today I was able to do some more Liberty in the large grass area. Mercury was still energetic and distracted and today was quite warm. I set about doing the same exercises and had no attachment to whether he was calm or not, or did anything I requested actually. I was more gauging how he felt and asking him questions. I had limited time and as always I only do what seems to be appropriate. I decided I would hop on him bareback and bitless for a few minutes and see how he felt. He felt much more focused and responsive then previous days and did some really nice mounted work. I was really pleased and had no idea he would be so much more focused and willing.

With this work, you must always stay in the flow without expectations. If you do, horses always offer so much more. I will update as we go along. I have found a beach that allows horses and since Mercury has never been to the ocean, that should offer new and interesting Connection building challenges!